Saturday, 29 May 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 111

I'm going to forgo my usual rant about how hard the words were this week in favour of an invitation to anyone reading this to come and join in the fun. If it were not for Raven's Wordzzles, I would have run out of stuff to write ages ago. Striving to include the set words naturally in a piece of writing is a really good challenge for the old creativity and mental agility. If you would like to play this excellent creativity-stimulating game, go here for rules, guidance and links to other players.

The mini (gone fishing, privacy, noticeable, customary, tooth ache, disposable)

This is part of an ongoing story about a young blind seer who has had a vision of danger befalling a young man.  She arranges to anonymously fund a holiday for him - only to discover she's sent him to the place where the danger was supposed to be. She catches up with him and they talk. Suddenly, a car comes careering round the corner of the road and, in his attampt to push the blind lady out of its path, the young man in injured.  He wakes in hospital, having lost his memory. His only visitor thus far has been the seer.

The Young man speaks...

My sister has arrived at last! Irene has been kind enough to step outside to give us some privacy for our reunion. Now that she’s here in the flesh, a whole raft of memories has beached itself and disembarked into my brain, my life is coming back at last. It’s not long before we fall into our customary ways with each other . She still nags me like a bad tooth ache (but with a noticeable reduction in ferocity now), and I still nod and say um in all the right places with two little ‘gone fishing’ signs in my eyes all the while. It’s how we roll. It turns out that she has been trying to get here for days but had to arrange someone to look after her kids: her husband was out of town on a sales conference for a week. What there is about the sale of disposable toothbrushes that takes a whole week to discuss is a mystery to me. After a while, Irene returns, knocking tentatively, afraid to interrupt. It’s OK though. Everything’s ok now.

The 10-worder (clam chowder, chapter and verse, mega sale, arguably, tribe, shake a leg, platform, smelly shoes, gray hair, dangling participle)

New to Harold? The summary is here.

“Everybody OK?” Mercury looked around, the noise of the blast still ringing in his ears.

The rest of the team seemed to be pretty much unscathed apart from a couple of minor cuts caused by flying glass fragments. They had all been fairly well shielded from the main brunt of the explosion by the Osprey building itself, but its windows had shattered, raining down little pieces of grimy glass.

“What the hell was that?” demanded Prada, shaking bits out of her hair.

“That’s what I was trying to tell you,” came Teatime’s exasperated voice from down by her feet.

“There was a bomb in the warehouse.”

“A bomb?”

“Yes! You know: tick-tick-boom. A bomb!” Teatime jumped up onto a pile of boxes (McKinley’s Organic Clam Chowder) which provided a more convenient platform from which to address these maddeningly thick-headed humans. “Someone left us a little present, it seems. Harold found it.”

“And ran off to save itself. “ said India sourly, “Nice.”

“No!” cried Teatime, irritated. “He ran off with the bomb to save us!“

The wail of a police siren insinuated itself into the surprised silence.

“Look, we can’t afford to be found here,” said Mercury, “Let’s go find that demon and get out of here. Shake a leg, people!”

Harold carefully levered himself up into a sitting position, causing little avalanches of dust and debris to cascade off him. He was nowhere near fully recovered yet, but the sound of sirens had started up somewhere in the distance and was getting louder. While he didn’t know exactly what would happen if one of his tribe were to fall into the hands of human law enforcement, he had no doubt that if such a thing were to happen, awkwardness would certainly ensue. He had better get out of here and quickly.

Part of a nearby wall had come down in an untidy pile onto his left foot and lower leg, pinning it to the ground. Sighing, he set to work as quickly and carefully as possible removing the bricks one by one and tossing them aside. They seemed ridiculously heavy in his weakened state. He hoped the humans and Teatime were all safe, that he had got the bomb far enough away and that this had not all been for nothing. Running off with the bomb like that was arguably the most reckless course of action in the circumstances – he might have triggered it himself. Somehow, though, it had seemed exactly the right thing to do and there had been no time to give the humans chapter and verse on the situation anyway.

He wondered if they’d come looking for him or just simply write him off. If the latter, a little voice in his head whispered, he’d be free to do as he pleased, maybe find a quiet little town somewhere, settle down, get a job, compose jazz pieces in his spare time with pretentious names like Blue Dangling Participle, Noetic Concordance or Purity of Possibility. He would stay out of everyone’s way, not attract any attention. After a few years he could give himself gray hair and a few wrinkles to allay suspicion. A quiet life, now that was an appealing thought.

The pile of bricks was getting gradually smaller. Soon he’d be able to get his foot out.

No, he told himself, disembarking reluctantly from the rather pleasant train of thought he’d been riding, the OGS humans would come looking, definitely. They would know he couldn’t have been killed by a mere explosion. He was also fairly certain that Agent India wouldn’t let them leave a loose end like that. No, they’d be here any minute with that useful car of theirs. His foot emerged from under the bricks, decidedly the worse for wear. They’d better be: in his current condition an untidy stagger would be the best he could manage.

“Here!” said Mercury “Turn left and don’t drive over the – “

The car’s tyres crunched over a bent and battered sign - Tired of smelly shoes? Odour-Eater Mega Sale Now On! – flattening it out once more.

“Never mind.”

“We’re definitely getting closer,” said Othello from the passenger seat. “There’s much more debris down here.”

“How can you tell?” asked Prada, sarcastically, “This whole neighbourhood looks like someone blew it up long before we got here. I bet even the rats have moved to a better area.”

“That demon can’t have got too far away, there wasn’t enough time.” said Othello. “It must be around here somewhere. Keep looking”

Harold heard the welcome roar of the approaching engine. He got to his feet and began hobbling towards it. At last! Those sirens were getting decidedly too close for comfort. When the vehicle appeared, though, Harold was dismayed to see it was not the OGS car – not a car at all, in fact, but a motorcycle. It was piloted by a rider in black leathers whose features were hidden by a full-face helmet. Harold glanced around quickly for possible motorcycle-proof escape routes, but none presented themselves. There wasn’t time anyway.  The machine roared to a stop, blocking his way before he could do more than stagger a few feet. The rider jerked his thumb at the pillion seat behind him.

“ Jump on,” he ordered, “The police are almost here.”

Seeing no other option, Harold clambered aboard and they roared off into the night.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Write Your Password on a Post-It and Stick it to Your Monitor, you idiot!

The phone goes. I pick it up. "Hello, IT Support."

"Er, yeah, hi," says the voice on the other end, "Erm, could you do me a favour and reset my password on the Klueless Decision Support server? Hehe, I've locked myself out – again."

I sigh. This is the third time this week.

"Ok," I say, I'll email you the new password (mental note: set it to '1mad1ckh3ad').

I reset his password and mail it. He'll be back, I just know it.

This happens a fair bit in my line of work, and it annoys me. OK, we all get a bit forgetful from time to time, but some folks seem to have a very localised and specific form of amnesia in the area of passwords.

So I'm going to share something that will perhaps save you from annoying your IT Support crew and thus becoming the object of their everlasting scorn and hatred (we are a mean-minded lot, when all's said and done and, remember, we can get into your stuff, bwahahaha!).

You know that bit where they tell you never to write down your password? It's a great idea, right?

Yeah, except that a lot of systems these days insist on password complexity rules like not re-using any of your last 100,000 passwords, or having a password the same length as the human genome, which must include numbers, upper- and lowercase letters and special symbols like underlines, ampersands, Eygyptian  hieroglyphics and so on. This makes for pretty difficult remembering, doesn't it?

So, here's how you can get away with writing down your password without leaving yourself vulnerable.

You password will be broken into two bits.

The first bit is a short (say four characters long) 'stub' which never changes. You must remember this part because you must never write it down or tell anyone what it is. Don't make it too obvious in case someone does actually guess it, or too obscure because you have to remember it. You can make the stub harder to guess by substituting numbers for some vowels like zero for O and three for E and so on.  Try to make it meaningful and memorable.

The second part of your password is the bit that changes when a system insists you give it a new password. This is the bit you can safely write down.

For example, suppose my 'stub' was the name of your first ever pet, Freddie the fish. The 'stub' could be 'fr3d' (see we've already included a number to help with the complexity). Then we could stick an underscore on the end of the stub (adding more complexity) and then think of a suitable ending, say, 'summertime'.

The password would be fr3d_summertime. You could safely just write summertime in your notebook (or on a post-it stuck to your computer – always a favorite) and still no-one could use it to get into your stuff.


Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Poetry Bus is on Fire

This week's challenge really had me stumped.  It was set by Terresa here.

Basically, we had to write something based on this picture.

Now, I'm not even sure what's going on in this picture. Is she fire-eating? Has a firework just exploded in her face?  Does she have super-power dragon-breath?

Anyhoo, this is what I eventually came up with. Other firewalkers can be found on Terresa's blog (follow above link).

She is fire, she is fire and ice,
Burning bright and bitter cold,
Flaming red and arctic blue
Torn in two, torn in two.

She is ice, she is ice and fire,
Saving warmth and killing chill
Howling wind and homely hearth
Torn in half, torn in half.

He it was that drew the line
Equatored her heart,
And divided her.

(Yeah, I know equator isn't a verb, but this is poetry after all).

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 110

The words weren't quite so troublesome this week, I'm happy to say, although I have resorted to the low tactic of including the words in street signs and names of businesses.

If you would like to play this excellent creativity-stimulating game, go here for rules, guidance and links to other players.

The mini (muscle spasms, charter boat, sunshine, microwave oven, ample bosoms)

This is part of an ongoing story about a young blind seer who has had a vision of danger befalling a young man.  She arranges to anonymously fund a holiday for him - only to discover she's sent him to the place where the danger was supposed to be. She catches up with him and they talk. Suddenly, a car comes careering round the corner of the road and, in his attampt to push the blind lady out of its path, the young man in injured.  He wakes in hospital, having lost his memory. His only visitor thus far has been the seer.

The seer speaks:

I was not always blind. I remember the look of bright summer sunshine on blue-green water. I remember lying on the deck of my father's charter boat, staring up unto the clean bowl of the sky, imagining myself, like thousands of children before me, falling, up, up and away into the blue. That was before the virus, the muscle spasms, the fever and the swallowing darkness. One of my very last genuine sight-memories is of a pair of kindly blue eyes above the starched brilliance of a nurse's uniform stretched over ample bosoms, a pair of plump hands cradling a steaming bowl of Oxtail soup fresh from the microwave oven. I was too sick to eat and, to this day, the smell of Oxtail soup repels me. Ian is both saddened and amused by this, I can hear it in his voice, even as I can hear his spoon dipping into his bowl for another mouthful.

The 10-worder (solar power, rooster, all God's children go to Heaven, prosperity, savage, cucumber salad, drizzle and fog, false teeth, library books, trench)

New to Harold? The summary is here.

Behind him, Harold heard the startled shouts of the humans plus the screech of one very indignant monkey which had just been dumped without ceremony onto the grimy concrete.

He had no time to spare for them now.

He had to get himself as far away as possible. The rhythm of his feet pounding the pavement brought the words of a chant into his head and he found himself running in time to it: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven. All God's children go to Heaven. One-two-three-four... He pushed this irrelevance aside and tried to remember where he'd seen the safe place, it had to be around here somewhere...

"I knew it!" cried India as Harold suddenly shot past her and out the door, "It's getting away!" Taser in hand, she set off after him.

"What?" Mercury and Othello spun round in surprise, having been intent on the crumpled old speeding ticket they had found.

"The demon's making a break for it!" this was from Prada as she herself ran toward the doorway.

"Helluva time to pull a stunt like that," grumbled Othello as he and Mercury followed.

"Wait!" cried Teatime, but it was too late.

Harold was not strong as demons went but he was fast and had soon put several streets between himself and the crumbling old building. This was not a good neighbourhood, its days of prosperity were well behind it. It was a wasteland of failed businesses and broken dreams, a desolate sprawl of padlocked doors and smashed windows. Even the gangs didn't bother coming here any more, such was the spirit of listless despair that hung around the place.

Where was it?

Harold rounded a corner, passing the shuttered windows of Sweetman's Cafe - Cucumber salad a speciality and Bergdorf Solar Power and Light Inc, now ironically in total darkness. Sale of Surplus Library Books! shouted a hand-painted sign as he flashed past. He was close now, he was sure. Rooster and Trench – False Teeth and Dental Supply Company proclaimed a faded hoarding to his left. Yes! He was almost there now, just down this street: he'd seen it on the way in.

"Darn it!" India skidded to a stop in the empty street. Of the fleeing demon, there was no sign. "I knew it couldn't be trusted." There was a savage edge to her voice, "I just knew it!"

Beside her, Mercury sighed and shook his head. "Guess you were right after all." he said, "I have to hand it to that demon though, he had me fooled. I really thought he was helping us."

"It was just biding its time, obviously." added Prada, "Now what?"

"Well, we've still got –" began Mercury.

The bomb exploded.

Glass and brick fragments and clods of earth flew everywhere, and the air immediately filled with a great spreading cloud of choking dust. Where the bomb had been, there was now a large hole in the ground as if a giant had wielded a great big invisible spoon, scooping up the earth. Knocked flat by the blast, Harold could only watch helplessly as shards of glass and lumps of masonry rained down on him from out of the smoke, the whole thing a weird sort of drizzle and fog. He'd still been too close to the bomb when it had gone off and he would be going nowhere until his vessel had repaired itself. He closed his eyes. It was such a pity that humans weren't as durable.

Monday, 17 May 2010


I saw this mug in a charity shop.

It was plonked carelessly in among all the usual sorts of bric-a-brac you find in these places: ornamental dogs and cats trying to out-do one another in whimsicality and general look-at-me cuteness, willow-pattern plates (it’s ALWAYS willow-pattern!), lonely wine glasses (which should clearly be part of a set but there’s always only the one - deep, no doubt, in the throes of survivor guilt), endless salt and pepper sets, empty picture frames, and mysterious little ceramic boxes whose purpose I have never managed to fathom.

But there was something about this mug. Its dark colour and its aloof plainness so set it apart from the gaudy, busy, floweriness and general commotion of the other things around it. It was sure of itself, too - centred, as they say, and didn’t feel the need to stoop to the level of those other mere trinkets vying for my attention. It was the ceramic embodiment of less is more. If it had been a person, it would have been a Buddhist monk - serenely detached from the world and all things in it.

“I’m not going to buy you.” I told it, slightly prickled by its smugness, “I have more than enough mugs in my house, thank you very much, and I’m trying to de-clutter. So, although I like you, I don’t need you and I don’t want you.”

The mug just sat there saying nothing (well, it would, wouldn’t it?).

It knew, you see.

The next week, I was in the shop again, (I am an Olympic-level moocher around charity shops). The mug was still there, albeit on a lower shelf. The company down there was no better than that which it had enjoyed the previous week: the dogs and cats were still trying too hard, the solitary wine-glass still mourned its shattered siblings and the little Chinese people were still hanging about on their bamboo bridge, gossiping, no doubt, about the sad state of a world that doesn’t want willow-pattern tableware any more.

“Still here, eh?” I greeted it. “What’s with the relegation? Were you too pricey? Not pretty enough? Chip on your shoulder? (See what I did there?)”

It was unimpressed by my attempts at ceramics-based wit.

It really was rather a nice shade of blue when all was said and done, and so smooth. I hefted it in my hand, just to try. mind you, no commitment.  It fitted as if it had been made specially for me. For a moment, I contemplated our future relationship. The Children in Need mug would have to move over, obviously, but Pudsey’s nice enough - for a bear with just the one eye, he wouldn’t mind, surely? I imagined a shared future of refreshing cups of tea, bitterly delicious coffees and maybe the occasional ice-cold milk (the stark whiteness would look so good against the mug’s dark skin).

It said nothing: it had waited, it could wait a little longer. Softly, softly

“Ok,” I sighed, reaching for my wallet, “You win.”

It didn’t show it, but somehow I know it was pleased.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 109

And still I struggle with the words this week. You'd think this would get easier.

If you would like to play this excellent creativity-stimulating game, go here for rules, guidance and links to other players.

The mini (eggs over easy, lawn mower, forgiveness, cold shoulder, chipper)

This is part of an ongoing story about a young blind seer who has had a vision of danger befalling a young man.  She arranges to anonymously fund a holiday for him - only to discover she's sent him to the place where the danger was supposed to be. She catches up with him and they talk. Suddenly, a car comes careering round the corner of the road and, in his attampt to push the blind lady out of its path, the young man in injured.  He wakes in hospital, having lost his memory. His only visitor thus far has been the seer

The young man speaks:

I'm feeling quite chipper today. Yes, that's definitely the word: chipper. So much so, in fact, that when they brought me my breakfast this morning, I jokingly asked for 'eggs over easy' in a silly American drawl. The Health Care Assistant (I think that's what they call them) just laughed and plonked my tray down. They must hear a lot of nonsense like that from patients with head injuries and so forgiveness probably isn't too hard for them. The blind lady – Irene - is coming in later today, which is great news. She told me yesterday that I have a sister and, as she said this, the image of a little blond girl struggling heroically to push an old and cantankerous lawnmower up and down our back garden, sprang into my head. And, like those strings of brightly-coloured silk hankies that magicians pull out of their sleeves, there came a stream of other memories tied to this one. My life is still hidden behind a fogged-up window but, here and there, little patches have been wiped clear and I can see though. Maybe there's something still hidden that explains why Andrea is apparently giving me the cold shoulder.

The 10-worder (speeding ticket, pedestal, changeling, what we ache for, in demand, carrot soup, powder puff, improvement, shady deal, amplitude)

New to Harold? The summary is here.

Whilst life in the world of men was a definite improvement over the one he had led in the Basement, Harold could not but help being a little disappointed sometimes that things were not more, well, glamorous. He and Teatime found themselves, once again, in a narrow alley. This one was behind the crumbling old building that was supposedly the home of a hi-tech medical plastics company. The alley was a classic of gritty gumshoe movies and hack cop-shows. Rubbish lay everywhere, piles of cardboard boxes labelled McKinley's Organic Carrot Soup were stacked untidily, ready no doubt to be crashed into at any moment and sent flying by a speeding car. There were a couple of dumpsters (with bodies or incriminating evidence in them for sure) and Harold expected at any moment to turn the corner and come across some ill-lit figures conducting a furtive and shady deal of some kind. Yep, definitely not glamorous, but at least he wasn't sitting in his little room at Aunt Aggie's, being bored to tears.

Earlier in the day, Prada had visited the place and had found it locked-up and deserted. Far from being the home of a hi-tech medical supplies manufacturer, the place looked more like an abandoned warehouse. There had been nobody around to ask about it either, so it had been decided that a night-time visit was in order.

"OK, demon," Came Prada's soft voice in the darkness next to him, "time for you to do your thing."

"My, my, what it's like to be in demand, eh, old sock?" came Teatime's amused voice from his shoulder.

"Yeah, yeah," replied Harold, "It's what we ache for, now step back please, ladies and gentlemen." He flexed his fingers theatrically. India rolled her eyes: what a show-off!

Harold placed his hands against the peeling paintwork of the door.

"Ta-daa!" he sang softly, as it clicked open after only a few moments' concentration - he was definitely getting better at this.

They quickly entered the building and Agent Othello closed the door carefully behind them. No point advertising their presence, after all.

They paused for a few moments to listen out for any signs that their ingress had been detected, but the dead stale air in the place was playing it cool and was not being split by the sound of wailing sirens, angry shouting or the thudding of running footsteps.

The humans clicked on their flashlights.

"Mag-lights?" Harold said to Prada, in mock disappointment, "I'd have thought you agents would have had some fancy gizmo like a powder puff that turns into a set of night-vision goggles or something."

"Mag-lights are reliable and cost less," replied Prada.

"Yes, and they're just about heavy enough to make a handy bludgeon as well," added India darkly.

"Focus, people." admonished Mercury.

They were in a narrow hallway. A door led off one side of it and another stood ajar at the opposite end to the one they had come in by. A cursory glance through the side door revealed an empty room.

The door at the far end gave out into a large space which was mostly empty. Here and there, the concrete floor had metal brackets sticking up out of it - presumably once used to bolt down machinery, and the odd wooden pedestal here and there which may once have supported a tool rack or a workbench. Two rows of metal column marched down the room, holding up the corrugated metal roof. The agents played their torches around some more, and the shadows rose in clouds like dust before settling back into place once the light had moved on.

"Well, this looks like a bust." said India, with a sigh "If those records ever came here then they must have been picked up long since."

"Spread out and keep looking," ordered Mercury.

Harold and Teatime wandered over toward the farthest corner, away from the OGS agents and their lights.

"Oh," he said disappointedly when they reached the corner.

"Oh, what?" demanded Teatime, "You know, you could turn on your flashlight, old bean. You might be able to see like a cat but I see like a monkey."

"Oh, sorry, I forgot," laughed Harold. He got his own light out and switched it on. He shone the bean down at the remains of a cardboard box. "I thought I saw something here, but it's just an old box after all."

He knelt down to look more closely. The box was labelled Changeling Electronics Inc – Amplitude Modulation Circuits. Setting down his torch, he lifted the top flaps to see inside.

Behind him, he was dimly aware of Agent Mercury announcing that he found an old speeding ticket, but that was all a very long way away.

The inside of the box was dimly lit by a single red LED, whose sullen light also showed a tangle of wires and a slab of something that looked a lot like Play-Doh, but clearly wasn't.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Poetry Bus Wakes up and Smells the Lino

This week, that legendary conveyance, the Poetry Bus, is driven by Barbara who set us a challenge on her bleeuugh! to write a poem whose first line was: I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum.

Now, there's a few ways this could go, obviously, but this is a family blog and we'll have no kinky stuff here, thank you very much.  Barbara wanted long lines as well.  My pome has those, alright (hence the smaller font to fit them in), but reads more like a lump of prose as a result. 

Anyhoo.  Enjoy.  Oh, by the way, the story recounted here is completely fictional as far as I'm concerned, but I'm sure it has happened to somebody somewhere.

I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum.
The toothbrush clutched in my aching fist was a shocking pink shout,
At odds with the steady brown decorum of the imitation oak parquet,
Defying the tired but resolute black of the shoes of the woman standing over me.

A bucket of soapy water landed with a dull plastic noise next to my bent head,
It was not the first: Sister Mary's anger had run to many buckets this day.
I was scrubbing the floor and the wickedness from my nine-year-old soul.
Gluttony is a deadly sin and nobody should go to Hell for a stolen cupcake.

My hands were dead, white, shrivelled things, luminous in the long shadows,
My back a red-hot rod of pain when she returned just before Vespers
Surprise limned her face: she had forgotten me and my shocking pink toothbrush.
The floor was clean enough to eat off, but my thoughts were black.

P.S  Can anyone think of a title for this?  'Cos I can't.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Poetry Bus Mystery Ticket Adventure with P Nolan

This week's poetry bus challenge, set by our esteemed driver of the week, P Nolan here, was to select an image from Flickr using an arcane and mysterious process, and then write about it.

Here's my image:

This is called “Ferme du château, Cornusson” from the collection of the Bibliothèque de Toulouse. It was taken by one Eugène Trutat between 1859 and 1910.

When I first looked at this image, I was completely uninspired. Ok, we see two people, who have played or are about to play tennis. Ok, she’s wearing hideously impractical clothes, hmm, can I do anything with that? Nope, not really. Perhaps I could do something about their relationship – tennis game as metaphor for the battle of the sexes? Blecch! Been done to death, that one.

The past is a foreign country….?  Hmm, now we’re onto something. What would I see if I had a time machine and went back to that scene?


Stepping from my time machine
I came upon an idyllic scene.

A tennis game, a summer’s day
A smiling invite: come and play!

It’s France, the year is nineteen-ten
Oh, but things were different then.

We know their customs and their ways
From dusty photos from those days.

But ‘pon my soul! What could be creepier?
Back then, the world was actually sepia.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Saturday Wordzzle 108

Once again, yet another struggle with the words this week, but I managed it just about.

If you would like to play this excellent creativity-stimulating game, go here for rules, guidance and links to other players.

The mini (over the top, preposterous, sing, cantaloupe, creepy)

This is part of an ongoing story about a young blind seer who has had a vision of danger befalling a young man.  She arranges to anonymously fund a holiday for him - only to discover she's sent him to the place where the danger was supposed to be.  She catches up with him and they talk.  Suddenly, a car comes careering round the corner of the road and, in his attampt to push the blind lady out of its path, the young man in injured.  He wakes in hospital, having lost his memory.  The seer visits him.

The seer speaks:

It turns out that the young man's name is Ian Weston. I'm glad: Ian is a nice serviceable name without preposterous connotations. He could have had some over-the-top name like Thelonius Canteloupe or something creepy like Igor, or something wet like Colin, but it's just plain Ian, which is nice. His sister still hasn't shown up yet for some reason, which is strange. I would move heaven and earth to be with my brother if he were lying in the hospital, but I suppose she has her reasons for not coming. Ian thinks he remembers that he likes to sing and has the impression that he might be in a choir or a band or something, but he's not sure. He's not sure about anything, bless him. He seems cheered by my visit though and, strangely enough, so am I.

The 10-worder (samples, argumentative, tragic, bagels and lox, osprey, bank balance, dream a little dream of me, providence, bride and groom, the flowers are in bloom again)

New to Harold? The summary is here.

Mr Teeth was annoyed that he'd had to turn back from following the OGS car. They had gone a good way out of the city onto empty desert roads and to have kept on following would have looked suspicious. Frustrated, he flicked on the radio. "...dream a little dream of me. Stars fading but I linger on, dear... " Mama Cass's distinctive voice came floating out. Not in the mood for easy listening, Mr Teeth turned the dial: "The flowers are in bloom again here at Providence Floristry! Surprise that special someone with a nice bouquet that won't upset your bank balance! Ask about our special Bride and Groom package today!" He spun the dial again "... special offer on bagels and lox at Rosenbaum's Deli!" He flicked the radio off again in disgust. If there was one thing Mr Teeth hated, it was those brassy-voiced, super-cheery radio commercials. Dammit, though, he'd been so close! If he could just get his hands on that little trumpet-playing punk, he was sure he'd be able to get some answers to the mystery of his boss's disappearance. Not today, though. Not today.

If this were one of those TV detective dramas, thought Harold, we'd be able to get DNA samples and things and find out what happened to Reverend Box. DNA samples always seemed to be the answer for some reason on those shows – even when it made no real sense. Still, it was only entertainment, after all and didn't have to be true-to-life. It was curious, though, how the strange little man had just seemed to vanish into thin air. Harold hoped he hadn't come to any harm like agent Emerald had - that would be tragic. He nay have been as crazy as a racoon but he had been quite likeable and, come to think of it, he hadn't actually been all that crazy anyway. Just because he worshipped Zeus and ran around the place with no clothes on didn't make him much more insane than most of the humans he'd met so far.

The car pulled to a stop outside Aunt Aggie's. They were back.

Othello headed straight to the nearest computer with the shipping receipt from Box's place in his hand. Harold and Teatime wandered over to watch him work his magic – and it really was magic to Harold. Computers were so clever and interesting! No wonder so many demons worked in IT. Where better to build things that held out the tantalising promise of such a variety of information, entertainment and efficiency while actually delivering such an amount of disappointment, expense and tooth-gnashing, hair-tearing, blood-vessel-bursting rage and frustration. Yep. Demonically perfect.

"So, who lives at 223 Oakland Drive," murmured Othello, typing the address into a search window. The computer thought about this for a moment, then displayed the answer: Osprey Medical Plastics Inc.

"Now what on earth would a company making naso-gastric tubes, disposable aprons, instrument trays and whatnot be wanting with information about Project Dynamo?"

"It doesn't make any sense," agreed Teatime, "Is it definitely a genuine company?"

Othello typed some more. "Well, it's certainly registered in this state as one so I guess it's a real company alright." he said, "But why would this so-called OGS agent get Box to ship the project records there of all places? Why not to here or any other OGS office? It just doesn't add up."

"Perhaps this agent was working on his own, not as part of some official OGS activity?" suggested Teatime.

"I wish Box had managed to get the guy's name," sighed Othello.

"Assuming he was a real OGS agent," replied Teatime.

"Yeah, that's argumentative, I suppose," Othello pushed his chair back and stood up.  "I'm getting a coffee, you want one?"

"No thanks," said Harold. This was a lie: he did want coffee, having developed quite a taste for it since coming to earth, but right now he didn't want to go into the break-room.

"Any minute now..." sang Teatime softly.

Spring Has Sprung! The familiar bright pink letters shouted up at Agent India from the mug sitting in the centre of the table. The perfectly undamaged, totally-not-in-a-bajillion-pieces mug sitting in the centre of the table. She reached out and touched it lightly with a finger and, when it didn't fall to pieces or prove to be a hallucination, she picked it up, cradling it thoughtfully. The demon had done this, obviously. No human could have repaired it so thoroughly - not in one night. Now this was a conundrum: she had loved this mug, cheap and gaudy as it was, but if that demon thought it could wheedle its way into her affections by fixing it then it had another think coming.

She walked over to the garbage bin and pressed the foot pedal to flip open the lid.  She held the mug over the bin, ready to drop it in, but for some reason her fingers just couldn't let go. Darn it, she really loved that mug! With a sigh, she lifted her foot, letting the bin lid fall closed and, mug in hand, wandered over to the coffee machine. Doesn't mean I like you any better, demon, she thought to herself as the hot bitter liquid splashed into the white china.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Big School

I have no friends here.

I’m standing on my own, staring through a chain-link fence; the wires have turned the world into a jigsaw made up entirely of diamond-shaped pieces. Of course, I didn’t think of that then. Then, I was just a kid on her own staring through a fence.

The houses across the road stare back at me without kindness or concern. I don’t belong to any one of them. This is not my street. I don’t even know where my street is: we came here on a bus and, after only a few turns, I might as well have been in Timbuktu.

Donna was supposed to be looking out for me. My mum had arranged it with her mum but Donna didn’t know me, we hadn’t been playmates or anything, so when we got here she just wandered off with her own friends.

Everybody here has their own friends, but then they would do: they’d all been together since they started school.  I’d been at a different school and none of my friends were here. I could only imagine them: Janucz, my best friend, a Polish boy with an accent you could cut with a knife. Tracy, always with that distinctive whine in her voice as though just about ready to burst into tears at any minute – which she often did. Nasim, who had come to us with no English at all but who learned quickly in the total-immersion language-school of the playground (“Nasim, go and say ‘poo-poo’ to Mrs McCarthy”). Aktar and Aslan, the albino brothers from Pakistan. ‘Naughty’ Greg and ‘good’ Carl and all the rest.

I’d really wanted to come to this school. My older brother and sister had been here. This was a ‘normal’ school, not a ‘special’ school for partially-sighted kids like the one I had come from. Here, the desks were in neat rows, all facing the front, just like I’d read about in countless children’s books, not scattered randomly around the carpeted (carpeted!) classroom. Here, there were uniforms and homework. This was what a proper school was meant to be like.

I turn away from the fence and the uncaring houses to take another walk around the playground. My satchel, so new it still has that leather smell, bumps against my hip as I walk. No-one is impressed by it, or by my pristine white knee-socks, new shoes and smart grey blazer: they all have much the same things themselves.

Music is the next lesson and, as the bell goes, everyone disperses in the magical way of ants down the cracks in the pavement. I don’t know where Music is going to be, though, and, suddenly, there’s nobody to ask. I look around: no-one.

The houses over the road are no help. A small bird of panic hatches somewhere in my stomach: I’m going to be late for the lesson. I’m going to get into trouble. I’m going to get into trouble!

I start walking towards one of the classrooms, maybe I could ask somebody there. As I approach, a ginger-haired girl comes trotting round the corner of the building.

“Do you know where Music is?” I blurt out, fear of trouble overcoming my fear of strangers.

“Yeah!” she says, “ I’m going there now, come on if you want!”

We trot over to the portakabin where the fabled Music is and, as we climb the three wooden steps up to the door, the girl turns to me.

“Hi, I’m Janet. What’s your name?”

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Poetry Bus a.k.a Watercats' Tour Bus

The Poetry Bus is driven this week by the amazing Watercats (get to know them now before they're famous and won't need us anymore). They set the challenge of writing about Sex, Drugs, Rock and/or Roll, individually or as a whole.

My effort is below and you can hear it on my ReverbNation doo-hickey over on the right (last track).
Other roadies can be found here.

WARNING: this piece contains no original sentiments, no deep insights into the human condition and I think I've even nicked the tune off somebody.

It was night on the platform and bitter as hell,
When an old guy approached me with a story to tell.
A travelling musician, his glory days flown
His battered old suitcase told a tale of its own.

He spied my guitar case, still shiny and new.
Said Son, let me tell you a story or two.
This life looks exciting when seen from outside
But music's a nightmare and a wild one to ride.

It's the sex and the drugs and the rock and the roll
And a life on the stage that has taken its toll
I gotta find shelter before it gets cold
'Cos a life on the road is no place for the old.

I started out early just playing my thing
In bar-rooms and cafes if they'd let me sing
It wasn't for money, that was never the plan.
My mistress was music and I was her man.

Then somebody heard me and mentioned my name.
The company called me and sold me on fame.
They drew up the contracts, the tours were arranged
From that moment onwards, everything changed.

I was rich, I was famous, on top of my game.
Everyone loved me or so it was claimed.
But with mo-one to guide me it went to my head.
I lost all my friends and I blew all my bread.

When the beautiful people all melted away.
And the phone's sullen silence filled day after day.
I took to the road, played for food or a beer,
I've been touring this country for forty-five years.

Son, let me tell you, you're just starting out
The point of my story, what it's really about.
I long for the good things, like a home or a wife
But music has bound me to a wanderer's life.

I gave music my body, gave music my all
'Cos music's my mistress and I am her thrall.
Music's my freedom, my journey, my goal.
Music's my mistress and she owns my soul.

It's the sex and the drugs and the rock and the roll

I'll still be playing when the final bell tolls
'Cos music's my lover and she'll make me whole.
Music's my mistress and she owns my soul.

Music's my mistress and she owns my soul.

Music's my mistress and she owns my soul.

Saturday Wordzzle 107

Once again, a mighty struggle, both with time and with the words this week.

As a result, I've only managed to write a Harold episode thus far. If I get chance, I'll add another 'Blind Seer' episode tomorrow.

If you would like to play, go here for rules, guidance and links to other players

The 10-Worder (salacious, charity, spoof, t-shirt, magical mystery tour, observation, book club, sneezing, street lamp, raining cats and dogs)

New to Harold? The summary is here.

“I wonder what the exact opposite of ‘raining cats and dogs’ is,” mused Teatime, gazing round at the featureless and aridly grey-brown desert, “Because this is definitely it.”

They were back at Reverend Box’s ‘church’ and, as before, all was quiet. The agents, Harold and Teatime had been standing around for several minutes, expecting the strange little man to pop up out of his hole in the ground, having seen them on his cameras, but so far he had failed to do so.

“Did anyone notice that car that was behind us for a while back there?” said Prada, “I could have sworn it was following us until it suddenly turned off.”

“It would be difficult to follow someone in these conditions undetected – there’s no cover for miles around. ” commented Othello. “It doesn’t look like Box is in any hurry to come out and join us today, what say we drop in on him?”

Prada rolled her eyes, “Very droll.”

When they reached the bottom of the access shaft leading to Box’s underground living quarters, they found the door locked.

“Don’t suppose he’s left the key under a plant pot or anything like that,” sighed Mercury, looking around the now rather crowded space at the bottom of the ladder.

“Doesn’t look like it.” Replied Othello, regarding the plain grey metal door, “We could try knocking I suppose, but this door is quite thick as I recall and he may not even hear it.”

“I think you could assist here, old sock,” Teatime whispered into Harold’s ear, “Remember how you got the jazz club’s door open?”

“Oh yeah!” agreed Harold. Aha! Here was a chance to make himself useful to the team – actually useful – for once. He stepped forward.

”Excuse me,” he said, “I think I can get us in.”

Mercury raised a quizzical eyebrow but stepped aside with a be-my-guest gesture, and Harold set to work.
It took longer to get this particular door open than when he’d opened the old fire ext door at Baron Samedi’s – the mechanism was more sophisticated - but, after a couple of minutes of concentration (along with a number of sceptical glances from the others), Harold was able to give the door a push and was rewarded with the sight of it swinging silently inwards.

“Nice job,” murmured Othello, slipping his notebook into his pocket (he had been making a careful observation of Harold the whole time). “I’d love to know how that’s done.”

“Sorry, trade secret,” Harold grinned as they all filed into Reverend Box’s bunker.

The lights were on and the refrigerator was still humming away in its corner, but of Box, there was no sign.
“Hello?” called Mercury, “Anyone here?” He listened for a few moments but there was no answer. “Ok, let’s look around carefully and see if we can figure out what’s going on here. Prada, you check what’s through that door. India, you take that one, Othello, check in here.” He paused, “Demon, you help Othello.”

The group dispersed as instructed.

Harold followed Othello over to Box’s desk and watched as the agent opened the drawers one by one. The first drawer just contained a sheaf of papers devoted to the various aspects of ancient Greek religious practices of which Box was so fond, many of which he had apparently written himself. The second drawer held office supplies, spare ink cartridges, staples and so on, but the last drawer contained a surprise.

“Well, well,” chuckled Othello, lifting out a stack of well-thumbed paperbacks. “Charity Lambert and the Spoof Spooks’ Book Club, eh?” he said, holding up the first one. The cover art was a luridly-painted scene featuring the eponymous Ms Lambert, a rather voluptuously endowed young lady PI, clad rather impractically in six-inch heels, tight leather jeans and an even tighter t-shirt, standing in dramatic pose under a streetlamp, gun pointed at a rather salacious-looking criminal. “Who’d have thought Box was into these penny dreadfuls,”

“I suppose it must pass the time.” Opined Harold, picking up the next book off the stack: Charity Lambert and the Magical Mystery Tour. “I imagine life down here could be quite lonely and boring.”

“Hmm,” agreed Othello, setting the book down, “I guess. Oh, hello, what’s this?” At the bottom of the drawer was a folded sheet of paper. Othello picked it up and unfolded it.

“Aha,” he breathed, “the legendary Lost Shipping Receipt!”

At that moment, Prada came back into the room, sneezing loudly, “The dust in this place,” she moaned, brushing her sleeves vigorously, “You’d think a guy could flick a duster round once in a while, sheesh!”

“Find anything?” asked Othello,

“Nah, I think that was just an old store room - loads of old clutter, broken desks, empty filing cabinets and a bicycle, of all things.” She shrugged, “You?”

Othello held up the receipt.

One by one, the other returned. Box, it seemed was nowhere to be found.

“Guys?” said India, after a few moments, “Didn’t Box have a computer when we were here last time?”

“That’s right, he did.” Agreed Othello, “a laptop. It was right here. I knew something was missing. He must have taken it with him.”

“Now what?” said Prada.

“Let’s leave a note for Box,” suggested Mercury, “and then let’s go check out the address on the Shipping Receipt.”

Saturday, 1 May 2010

These Words

It's odd what comes into your head on the bus.  Today, on the way home from town my mind wandered.  All around, people were chatting on mobiles, zoning out on their iPods or, occasionally, talking to the person in the next seat.  Not me, though, I was following this to see where it led...

These Words

These words have become stones.
I hold them in my mouth
And roll them round and round
To get them smooth,
To knock off
The killing edge.
But smooth or not,
Round or not,
They are still stones.
They lie cold and heavy
On my tongue.
Smooth or not,
Round or not,
They are still stones,
These last words of mine,
And I have to
Let them fall






To lie in circles
Round my feet
Amid shards
Of Shattered you.

It's odd what comes into your head on the bus.